Despite its humble beginnings, farmhouse design has taken on a life of its own. A style once relied on purely for its practicality and reliance on local materials, it soon caught the eye of homeowners in suburbs and cities alike, thanks in large part to the popularity of shows like Fixer Upper. Soon, a veritable obsession took hold of the design world that began transforming the interiors of mid-century modern homes, single-story ranches, and even Brooklyn brownstones into a shrine to all things shiplap.
Luckily, we’ve all dialed it back a bit, and the latest iteration of farmhouse design has a much more nuanced approach. In kitchens especially, country kitsch has been replaced by casual luxury for a “farmhouse” style that may actually have the type of appeal it takes to transition from a largely social media-driven trend into a timeless aesthetic.
“Modern farmhouse kitchens are all about making utility a luxury,” says Aly Morford and Leigh Lincoln, the co-founders of Newport Beach, California-based design studio Pure Salt Interiors. “As the heart of the home, the kitchen should be designed as a space to gather and connect, to share meals and conversation. Keeping it relaxed, functional, and inspirational allows for practical day-to-day use—and plenty of opportunity for making a statement.”
Looking to nail that oh-so-tender balance of form and function for your own space? Turn to these five must-have elements to capture the effortless ethos of the new farmhouse kitchen.
For a kitchen design scheme that truly gets better with age, choose elements that actually, well, age. This means selecting “living” finishes that show their wear-and-tear in an elegant way—unlacquered brass fixtures that texture with each touch, soapstone countertops that darken over time, or exposed wood beaming that has naturally weathered to the perfect patina. Not only are these types of design elements a great way to bring a bit of history to your home (albeit artificial), they also lend a well-loved appearance to your space—and if true farmhouse kitchens are anything, they’re well-loved and well-used.
With a focus on practicality and usability, the “new” farmhouse kitchen is not a place to skimp on surface area. In fact, according to the deVOL Kitchens team (arguably the most iconic proponents of the new farmhouse kitchen aesthetic), the bigger, the better. “Farmhouse kitchens are filled with big pieces of furniture, the kind that allows food preparation and dining on a larger scale,” explains Helen Parker, creative director at deVOL. She recommends mixing elements of old and new, combining things like freestanding cupboards, oversized wood tables, and vintage accessories with bespoke cabinetry. “A pantry cupboard and a prep table, a large sink with workspace around it, a big range cooker and a table big enough to seat a gathering—that's what a farmhouse kitchen means to us.”
There was once a time where a farmhouse aesthetic was almost intrinsically intertwined with a singularly white color palette. Perhaps first realized as an antidote to the warmer wood cabinetry popular in the early 2000s, a white-on-white subway tile and cabinetry combo was the calling card of the Joanna Gaines fan club for many years. Now though, color is back in a subtle way, with a better-than-neutral palette of shades like soft taupe, olive green, charcoal grey, and stormy navy that evoke casual luxury. The key to nailing the “new” farmhouse kitchen is choosing one or two shades to take precedence and relying on “living finishes” to flesh out the rest of the vibe. Another sign of refined times: Gone are the days where a different color coated the upper, lower and island cabinetry—also a popular iteration seen in farmhouse kitchens of years past. Making a statement is now achieved by quietly not making a statement.
A British Aesthetic
In a worldly twist, many of the design elements popular in the new iteration of farmhouse kitchens actually have very old roots—in British design. Often inspired by utilitarian sculleries and workhorse country homes in the English countryside, things like streamlined cabinet profiles, oversized basin sinks, and plasterwork have been hopping the pond and gaining a foothold in modern American kitchens.
“To me, a traditional plain English kitchen is the new farmhouse kitchen, says Sarah Stacey, owner and founder of Sarah Stacey Interior Design. “Finishes are natural and matte, colors are muted, cabinets are inset and all the details are purposeful. They look like they could have been located on a dairy farm forever.”
Everyday Living Essentials
Unlike spaces that may be approached with a design-first, function-second mentality, new farmhouse kitchens have a decidedly practical outlook. Gone is any need for “checking the boxes”—if you aren’t going to use a design element (even uber-popular ones, like a kitchen island that boasts seating), then you have full permission to forgo it. While elements like lighting and appliances can certainly be beautiful (and they often are), they need to serve their practical purpose first—cabinetry is custom-made and located to best suit your cooking habits (and those oversized copper pots you just had to have); Well-loved cooking utensils are displayed in crocks on the countertop; ranges boast ample burners for cooking up stews; and worn brick floors invite the happy chaos of a house of hungry diners. Use, function, and, above all, enjoyment are the cornerstone upon which every design decision is made.
What do you like most (or least) about a farmhouse kitchen? Tell us in the comments below.